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Ms. Opinionated: My Abusive Ex is Part of My City's Close-Knit Music Scene.

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Welcome to Ms. Opinionated, our weekly advice column dealing with questions of life, love, feminism, and pop culture. Submit your anonymous questions here. This week, Nicole Georges writes back to a woman who has to deal with an abusive ex in her town's close-knit music scene. 

Dear Ms. Opinionated,

I am dealing with a difficult situation involving my partner of three years and many friends and acquaintances. A few years ago I was in an abusive relationship with a man I met through the music scene. He sexually and emotionally abused me and used me financially.

I have met several of my close friends through him and even met my current partner through going to underground rock shows with him. And although my current partner knows what I went through with this man, he is still involved with him. I was able to cut ties with him safely with the support of my partner over three years ago when I moved to a different city. But he lives here now too. The abusive ex is highly involved with the music scene in my city. He often puts on shows and plays music in a band that has toured with my current partner after I told him how uncomfortable his involvement made me. He claimed he did not have a choice and that his band mates made the decision. I have been tricked into riding in a van with him since cutting contact with him, I see him at venues often and I see his Facebook posts through mutual friends because he organizes shows.

It causes me so much anxiety that I have panic attacks now. Not many of my close friends know what happened between us but they don’t seem like they would care. My old roommate who lived with my current partner and me even invited the abusive ex into our house when we lived together. Even though I stated he was not welcome.

They sat upstairs chatting and playing games while I hid in my bedroom for hours. And when confronted the roommate and partner insisted I was overacting. This man raped me and hurt me and I still have to see his face and see him in person and left parties and because my friends invited him. I feel so isolated by his persistent presence. It seems impossible to win in this situation and I simply cannot move to a different city. How do I get my partner and friends to take me seriously? 

Why do they associate with this abusive man after they know what he did to me?

p.s. This is the only problem in my current relationship with an otherwise supportive partner.

Sincerely seeking advice,

Isolated in the City

Dear Isolated, 

There are so, so many people in the world, I'm sorry you have to keep running into this one. With that said, you are allowed to make boundaries about who you are and are not around, and then enforce them. 

I have two prongs of approach to offer you. One is a fresh slate, and the other is for cleaning up the slate you already have. 

1. MAKE FRIENDS OUTSIDE OF "THE SCENE". 

There are so many people in your city! They may not all be into the exact same music as you, or know the same places, but there are decent human beings who have more in common than you'd think based on the cut of their pants. They will support you or hang out with you without this cloud of "but-he's-a-cool-dude-in-a-cool-band" hanging over them. Unconflicted, friendly, fresh-slate support. 

2. BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES, BOUNDARIES

Ideas: 
• Block him on Facebook
• Decide, concretely, what you will and will not tolerate. 
• Realize that you cannot control your friends or your partner, but you can control yourself. 
• After you decide what you will and will not tolerate, communicate these boundaries to your partner and friends in a calm and loving way.  If they choose not to respect these boundaries, you get to make a decision about whether these are really your friends in the way you need friends. 

Boundary Suggestions: 
1. He is not allowed in your home, period. If anyone invites him over after knowing the circumstances, you need to reconsider living with that person. There are plenty, PLENTY of places to hang out in your town, in any town, and your horrible ex doesn't need to be stationed on your couch. 

1.5. Your partner needs to be working for the good of the team (that is the two of you), and that means respecting you. He doesn't need to boycott Sir Scenester, but he certainly shouldn't be inviting a wolf into your space. 

2. You could ask your friends to please warn you if he is invited to a party or place where you will be.  You don't need to take out the violins and tell them the whole story, you still get to maintain your privacy, but as an adult you get to choose whether or not you attend parties where this fellow will be.

3. You energy will be better used by inviting friends over and hosting parties than it is for you to emotionally batten down the hatches and attend Sir Scenester's shows where you have to be in his space and watch him suck up to your loved ones.

END NOTE: 
Your friends might keep him as a friend. That's their right. It's cruddy, but they get to choose who they spend their time with.  You get to choose to stay out of that particular friend-mix, but it could be valuable to let them know what's going on.  It could go a long way to say,  "I can't be around Sir Scenester for personal reasons. If I disappear from a party early, or don't show up for an event, it's not because I don't want to support you, it's just for my own personal safety and well-being."

(Can you imagine inviting your best friend's rapist to a party and then being mad if your friend left early? I can't.)

Good luck!

Nicole

Do you have a question for advice columnists Andi ZeislerSydette Harry, or Nicole GeorgesSend it in! All questions will remain anonymous. Read previous installments of our feminist advice column


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Comments

14 comments have been made. Post a comment.

If your partner isn't

If your partner isn't willing to help you protect yourself from the person who raped and abused you, they're a terrible partner. PERIOD. It doesn't matter how supportive and kind they are otherwise, they're failing colossally at a very basic thing. You shouldn't have to do explanation gymnastics and hide from your rapist while your supposedly loving partner goes on tour with and hosts your abuser in your own home. If partner and friends don't understand that you would like their help in staying away from a person who raped and abused you, you need to find a new community of people who are not complete shitheads. I'm sorry if this is harsh, but it's *absolutely appalling* that this is something that you feel like you have to explain in different ways to get the people in your like to understand and care.

Agreed

I understand that it must be weird to advise a stranger over the internet to break up with their partner, but I can't believe that this WASN'T the advice given, or at least explicitly stated as an option/possible inevitability. I also feel like the advice given doesn't reflect personal knowledge of/experience with navigating music-based subcultures. (Though it certainly isn't Georges' fault if that's something they aren't directly familiar with.)

Also agreed

I agree that this is appalling behavior. By not condemning this person, your current partner is condoning his actions. He is ignoring your feelings, your mental health, and your physical safety. He may not be full on abusing you, but he's certainly hurting you, and acting dismissive of you as a human being. Dump him and find a guy who gives a flying fuck about you.

I would suggest the survivor

I would suggest the survivor of the abuse seek out counseling, if possible, specifically related to trauma (as opposed to the more conventional "how does that make you feel" counseling/therapy). The anxiety and panic attacks are trauma responses (as is hiding in the bedroom for hours) and, if left unresolved, will continue to occur regardless of the boundaries she creates and enforces. For example, simply seeing the offender in the community could trigger a panic attack, and when considering the offender is in the community, it is likely she will continue to see him in spite of all her efforts to create a safe environment. Again, it is important to make a distintion between conventional counseling and counseling that focuses specifically on trauma. Wishing you all the best.

I am seriously side-eyeing

I am seriously side-eyeing Ms. Opinionated this time.

If your partner thinks you're overreacting that's super shitty of them. Whatever reaction you're having concerning the man who raped you is completely appropriate and ok. Your partner not being on board with that, not putting your safety and wellbeing first, not even being fucking curteous enough to agree to disagree but respect your wishes not to be around your rapist, those are MAJOR RED FLAGS.

Obviously I don't know you or your partner Isolated. You're the only one who can gauge if your partner is really there for you. It's just, gah, completely demeaning and dismissive of your feelings and your trauma for him to say you're overreacting and to continue to invite this guy along. I mean, fuckin' a, your partner /knows/ this guy is a rapist and willingly hangs out with him! (unless it was just the roommate that was playing games after inviting him over, I'm a bit unclear on that part.) Even if it was just the roommate hanging out with the rapist, the fact your partner said you "overreacted" because you had to spend hours trapped in your room while your rapist had the run of the house is RED FLAG. I just don't get that sort of thing demonstrated any sort of kindness or concern or compassion. Seriously Isolated, RED FLAGS.

Abuse comes in many flavors. Just because your current partner isn't hitting you, forcing you to have sex or outright nasty/spewing vitrol doesn't mean he isn't being abusive/harmful to you. Not respecting your emotions, not supporting you, devaluing your emotions and thoughts, and continuing to comply with you being forced to interact with your rapist are abusive behaviors. You deserve better. You deserve to be respected and loved and cherished and listened to. You are not overreacting. I hope you are able to find friends outside of this circle, and I hope they are able to give you every bit of respect and support you deserve.

I think the two-pronged

I think the two-pronged approach was meant to help Isolated with this shitty aspect of her partner's and friends' behavior. It's easy for all of us to say DTMFA. I think she should too, but if those people are the only support network she has right now, then she still needs them for now. I hope she can find people who will respect her boundaries. There may be some of her current friends who are willing to do that, but it might mean having to share the truth about her rapist and risk all of the shitty victim-blamey shit that people say to avoid confronting the truth in those situations. Of course, the guys who hear the truth and immediately want to go beat up the guy are sometimes just as bad.

I have experienced a similar

I have experienced a similar situation. Developed an anxiety and panic disorder and, by the end, had lost all sense of dignity and self worth. Insult to traumatic injury: None of the music "scene" people I'd met and became friends with during the 4 years I was with him continued any kind of relationship with me, nor asked how I was despite knowing the facts. Every single person chose to remain a fan (he was part of a decently known indie band, and was quite the charming, humorous, seemingly gentle type. Nobody wanted to know about the lurking predator/abuser underneath).

If you're anything like me, you won't heed this advice until you're ready to, but here it is regardless:

Get out of that scene.

There are a ridiculous number of incredibly exciting, fulfilling ways to live OUTSIDE the music world. It will take you a couple years to understand this, and feel it for yourself, once you break away. But life is so much richer, multi-dimensional AND RESPECTFUL, and just plain fucking awesome, and mind-expanding (I could go on) than what you're experiencing now. This I can promise you.

And one more promise: Once you're well out of there and have healed you will look back and find it hard to recognize the young woman you once were who would compromise her basic self-respect in order to remain in partnerships or within communities that would dare compromise your emotional health and sense of well being. Yep, you'll look back and see your situation the way the others on here do: with healthy objectivity and boundaries, and therefore a rightful sense of horror that you'd put up with ANY of this.

Get out my friend.

"None of the music "scene"

"None of the music "scene" people I'd met and became friends with during the 4 years I was with him continued any kind of relationship with me, nor asked how I was despite knowing the facts."

I was in the same situation. One thing I was blamed for often during my terrible 3 year "relationship" was "creating drama." So in a desperate attempt to create less drama, I began ignoring everything that felt good to me and started doing whatever anyone else wanted. When I finally broke away from it and it came time to decide what to do about mutual friends, one of the biggest hurdles I had was allowing myself to say 'It's okay for me to want distance from this mutual friend even though they aren't HIM.' I constantly wondered if I was creating unnecessary drama. I didn't want to feel like a finger pointer or the one who couldn't hang in there.

In the end, I looked inside myself and very sadly admitted, I don't think these people are my close friends anymore. They know what went on, and we no longer see the world the same way. To them, he's a somewhat superficial very generous friend. To me, he's a nightmare.

My best advice, Isolated, when it comes to the scene you're in now and whether you should / have to leave... ? Start small, and don't criticize yourself or your friends' or current partner's choices. If you need to hide in your room, be proactive about it. Schedule it into your night. Create distance and personal space. Maybe you can even feel better about your current partner if you guys try temporarily living separately. You can probably feel within yourself that your current partner is not measuring up as far as hearing your needs and supporting you through this, and I imagine that is angering and frustrating. I would urge you to please be careful not to let frustration with your current partner detract from your ultimate goal - for you as an individual to be completely free of disrespectful people in your intimate circle, and to engage in activities that make you feel powerful and positive.

In other words, don't hang on. Let go! There's a new you out there waiting!

Why should I change? He's the one who sucks.

1.) Don't leave the music scene because he's there. Nope. Fuck this guy, why should he get to stay in the scene if he's the one who sucks?

2.) Your boyfriend is not treating you properly. Leave your boyfriend. If your boyfriend can't understand why it's traumatic to attend parties & shows with an abusive ex, then he's not going to understand other emotionally-relevant situations down the road.

3.) Find some friends within the scene that have your back, that will speak out against the presence of a rapist & abuser within their scene--why isn't anyone in your scene doing this? You need a support network.

4.) If you can't find friends & partners within the scene who can be there to support you, -then- leave the scene. It sucks. At that point it's not even worth being in. And it's endemic to music scenes everywhere: that social power can be greater than the human character.

5.) I'm really sorry you're going through all this. It really sucks. No one should have their safe spaces invaded by horrible people. Stay strong homie, y'all will get through this shit! <3 <3 <3

WTF?

Nicole, I have been following your advice columns for years. I think you're one of the best advice-givers. However I am truly appalled that you did not even suggest that the advice-seeker dump her partner. Further FUCK THE MUSIC SCENE! Read a book, spend time with people who value you, and if you want to be in the music scene still, be like Lily Taylor in Say Anything: start a band and write songs that are all like fuck you fuck you fuck you.

Take the power: tell the story

When faced with a similar circumstance some time ago-- an ex in a status position in a community I shared-- I took back the power he had taken from me by telling the story. In detail. You participate in a music scene. Do you make music? Can you write songs (or make other public art) speaking the truth of what this jerk did to you that will make *him* flee *you* and ensure that any other woman thinking about sleeping with him knows what he did? I wholeheartedly agree with the need for boundaries and new spaces and new friends-- I didn't really heal until I had them all-- but owning the story publicly helped strip me of my feeling of powerlessness. It mortified and embarrassed my abuser, shattering his fictitious 'nice guy' image. And had the added bonus of making sure he and anyone who thought what he had done was ok knew I wouldn't tolerate them in my space or presence. My actual friends supported and championed me, and I got some useful clarity on who really was and was not worth keeping in my life when I outgrew the scene.

I'm lookin at you sideways

I'm lookin at you sideways too ms. opinionated. I think this advice is pretty sloppy.

Isolated,

There are a number of groups, in a few cities that do work around survivor support and perpetrator accountability. You might want to look at some of their websites and resources. Generation 5 in the Bay area, Philly Survivor Support Collective and Support New York all have websites with resources and contact info. Some of their resources might help you cultivate safe space for yourself.

A lot of people in the comment section have been pretty harsh about your current partner, and I'm about to jump on that bandwagon, with a bit of a caveat. Your current partner is not behaving in a supportive manner, and it's a major problem. The biggest red flag I see is him telling you you were overreacting by being upset that your rapist was invited to your house. You were not overreacting. You have the right to ban a rapist from your home. What your partner says to you when he says you are overreacting is, "I don't think you being raped is that big a deal." He might not realize that's the message, but it is. The second biggest red flag are the excuses. "Oh my band mates decided to go on tour with your abusive ex, I couldn't do anything about it." That's a load of immature nonsense that again points to him not taking you and the abuse you suffered that seriously. Not seriously enough to say, "yeah, that guy's a good musician and everything but he did some horrible shit to someone I love and I don't want to condone that behavior by paling around with him and acting like everything is cool."

Which is where you get to make a choice/stand. It might help you and your partner for you to ask him some direct and pointed questions. Start with the general. Do you think rape is a serious crime? Do you think rapists should be held accountable for their actions? Do you think rape survivors deserve rape/rapist free spaces? Do you think it is reasonable for someone who is raped to not allow the rapist into their home? And then get into the specifics of why he thinks you aren't entitled to rapist free space. If he's just not thinking about it, because, you know, privilege, patriarchy, rape culture, you can help him shift his perspective. If he just doesn't get it or care, then he is not the supportive awesome partner you thought you had, and you might need to chuck him. A similar thing goes for your friends. You might want to find out from them why they are embracing him despite it being an increasing risk to your mental health. And you might need to find new friends if the answers point to them caring more about being cool in the scene than having your back and making sure you are safe and sane.

I would also suggest that you start cultivating friends and activities outside the scene you are in. You don't specify outside of music, but if it's an apolitical scene, you're going to have a potentially harder time getting folks to have your back. Although, if it's a quasi-political scene it may not be any easier, less sexist or more supportive (I'm lookin at you punk scene), so there's that. But if you take baby steps outside of the music scene you'll find it easier to leave if you have to, and easier to get the support you need if you decide to stay half in.

And a hearty second to the advice about getting some trauma-based therapy (v. talk therapy). The panic attacks won't go away on their own, and you deserve to heal and be safe. And it will make dealing with your friends and partner so much easier if your tool kit is full.

Good luck. It won't be easy, but finding out where your friends and partner stand so you can make the choice about them being in your lives is important to your health and healing. And you deserve to be safe and happy and loved and healthy.

And try talking to someone who works with rape survivors on the regular to get some of the support your friends aren't giving you.

There is a sentence in there

There is a sentence in there that really should read "do you think people should be entitled to rape/rapist free spaces." Not just survivors. But the point I was trying to get at is asking your partner more generally if he thinks that someone who was raped has the right to have spaces, like their frickin home, where they do not have to deal with the rapist.

Something really similar to

Something really similar to this happened to me after a relationship in which I was physically, sexually, and emotionally abused. My abuser was a musician and most of my friendships were with people that were involved in the same music scene, more or less. I spent a lot of time going to therapy and working on my shit in order to come to terms with the fact that what happened was abuse and trying to heal from it.

But I had internalized this idea that I didn't have the right to expect to be able to stay away from him if I wanted to see my other music friends and go to shows and stuff. I told myself it was ok, but it wasn't. It felt like shit. I was still acting like the one who had something to be ashamed of. I was taking it all on myself like it was my problem. I was afraid I would be accused of being a source of "drama" (like a previous commenter) if I talked about what he had done too much or if I expected other people to care too much.

I was also still holding on to the idea that music people were somehow different from other people. That they were supposed to be down, less likely to be sexist, victim-blaming, etc. I guess that's what comes of growing up as a lonely fan of obscure music in a small philistine town and idealizing what life would be like when I found other people who understood about music, who I assumed would understand about everything else too. That was hard to let go of. But it's a dangerous idea. Music is a great thing to have in common with people but people who love music are just as fucked up as everyone else and just as likely as any rando off the street to revictimize an abuse survivor.

Well, I muddled through and things got a little bit easier. And then it all came to a head. Someone cluelessly invited him to a party I was going to be at. This had happened before but I just ignored him. This time, though, he pressed the issue. He stood in front of me and blocked my path and glared at me, and launched into a creepy monologue, revealing he'd been stalking me and generally being subtly threatening yet "friendly." When I finally got away, I naturally freaked out. Some friends were supportive and helped me. But one of my supposed friends reacted in the way I had always feared everyone would. He shamed me for being upset and said all kinds of shitty things, identifying me as the source of the "drama" and going through a litany of the usual victim-blaming bullshit.

It hurt and it played on all my fears about myself and about what other people would think of me, but once I calmed down and got perspective about it, it actually really helped. I finally saw the situation for what it was. There were people in that scene that were cool but there were others that were not and I couldn't afford to waste my time on the ones that weren't. Of course, that was easier said than done since these people were all involved with each other in different ways. And I had a bad six months or so after that where not only did my trauma symptoms come back, but I got some new ones I'd never had before, as if I was only just starting to process some of the damage that had been done. It sucked. But I'm better off for it now. I've let go of the people who wouldn't let go of the abuser. People who treated me like my abuse was contagious or who shamed me (like the guy at the party) only get a cold "hello" from me at most. I don't need people like that in my life and I don't care if they know it.

Isolated, if you're reading this, I know this is really hard. You don't want to be even more isolated than you already are and you feel like you need the friends you have and the scene that means a lot to you. You're still in a tough place so soon after the abuse and you're in no position to heal while people keep undermining you, but that doesn't mean you can cut ties with everyone who's contributing to the problem and just go it alone. You might have to find a balance between setting boundaries and holding on to the connections you need. But please, do whatever you can to surround yourself with people who understand and will respect your needs and to get as much space as you can from those that don't and won't. It's ok to be patient with others to some extent but don't put too much responsibility on yourself to teach other people or justify yourself. Also, therapy really helps, as does reading about this stuff and seeking out other survivors to talk to either in support groups (most DV shelters and rape crisis centers have them, and you are clearly a survivor of both abuse and rape) or online. I'm really glad you reached out here and I hope that you keep reaching out.